PHILADELPHIA, PA – Calling 9-1-1 in the City of Brotherly Love may not have the intended effects.
Combining a staffing shortage with a significant increase in calls never creates an optimal situation in a dispatch center. Philadelphia residents are starting to feel the crunch and confidence in the system is waning.
Georgeanne Huff-Labovitz, owner of Marie Huff’s hair salon, had a customer with a medical emergency. So, they called 9-1-1.
“I called 9-1-1 and it was about 25 rings and I’m thinking, ‘What is going on?'” she told the local ABC affiliate. “It’s very scary, it’s a life or death situation. 911 should be there when we call.”
The 86-year old woman, with a know heart condition, continued to have dizzy spells.
“This was very scary for us, so I dialed 9-1-1 again and again. About 25 times it rang. Now what do I do?” said Huff-Labovitz.
They tried calling several times, but the calls went unanswered. Finally, they got through after 20 minutes of dialing and waiting for an answer.
Dispatchers were finally able to get firefighters, and then paramedics, on the scene.
Earlier this week, according to ABC6, a local woman made several attempts to call 9-1-1 as her ex-boyfriend attempted to illegally enter her home.
He kicked and screamed at the door for several minutes before knocking the door off its hinges. Another man inside the residence was armed and opened fire, killing the intruder prior to officers arriving on the scene.
Police say they are aware of the delays.
Officials have said that they are working diligently to address the shortages. They have graduated new classes of dispatchers and have adjusted the schedules to bring more to the call center during peak call times.
The general public, however, aren’t the only ones taking notice and asking questions.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass says that she is noticing more and more conversation around the shortage.
“They’re not calling 9-1-1 just to chit chat, they’re calling because there’s an emergency,” she said.
Given the shortage of roughly 100 dispatchers, the city is falling well short of meeting the staffing demand. They currently only have 30 people in training.
“And they just hired all these 911 operators, I don’t understand, we pay a lot of taxes here,” added Huff-Labovitz.
Councilwoman Bass believes that this raises even more questions.
“What is happening? What is taking so long? How are we going to correct this and make sure the people in the city feel safe? Because right now, they are concerned and they are rightfully concerned,” Bass said.
According to billypenn.com, there is a reason for the staff shortages.
“Absences are driven by burnout, COVID-fuelled [sic] illness, and sky-high turnover, according to nearly a dozen current and former dispatchers who spoke with Billy Penn, as well as other officials with knowledge of the situation.
Until recently, supervisors were mandating overtime for dispatchers seven days a week, department officials confirmed.
‘A lot of people are burnt out,’ said Darnell Davis, union representative for Local 1637 of District Council 33, which represents civilian communications in the police department.
‘They’re the first responders, and they’re getting a lot [of pressure] from management to come to work and work through the COVID, and they have.’
This is not a new problem within the Philadelphia dispatch radio room. We wrote about this issue back in July. Keep reading for more on the original coverage.
Police are reminding the public that if you need non-emergency assistance, call 3-1-1. But, in the event of needing to call 9-1-1, do not hang up and call back. Doing so puts your call at the end of the queue, as call are routed to be answered in the order that they came in.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw is acknowledging a problem with morale.
WHYY reports the the low level of esprit de corps is “due to an extraordinary number of stressors impacting officers in a compressed amount of time.”
Some of the stressors pointed to include the pandemic, which has led to the death of five officers from the PDP, another officer being shot and killed in the line of duty, civil unrest that has been occurring since the death of George Floyd, and the “defund” movement making its rounds across the country.
“We’ve been through a lot in these last couple of years. A lot,” said Outlaw during a press conference this past week. “We don’t expect our staff to be robots.
We want them to have venues in which they can express what they’re experiencing. We value their well-being.
How do we figure out what our roles are when our narratives are vacillating between: ‘We want more cops,’ ‘No we don’t,’ ‘Defund,’ and, ‘By the way, we want you to do these additional things but we don’t believe it’s OK to give you resources to do it.’ It was a lot of counter-intuitive, conflicting narratives happening all at once with us caught in the middle of that.”
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PHILADELPHIA, PA– Typically, those who call 9-1-1 do so because there is an imminent emergency they need assistance with. In such situations, one would expect for someone to quickly answer the call and assist with whatever the need is.
That used to be the case, however, since the defunding police and the anti-police movements began, police departments are stretched thin across the board, and the manpower is just not there any longer in many departments across the country.
A group of people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania recently learned that help is not always just one call away, not given today’s current climate at least.
— John Green (@Greener300) July 28, 2021
One of those individuals, Albert Palubinsky, spoke to Action News, and said that on Monday, July 26th, around 11 p.m. he and his neighbors were alerted to a fire across the street by a woman walking her dog.
Palubinsky said that the events that unfolded next were disturbing, as several members of the community called 9-1-1, but no one answered the phone.
Albert Palubinsky said:
“I call 9-1-1, Kevin calls 9-1-1, my wife calls 9-1-1, and nobody answers the phone,”
“I say it lasted about 20 minutes because at first the phone had just rang and rang and rang until it disconnected,”
After alerting the occupants of the building, neighbor Kevin Little jumped into action and attempted to put the fire out himself, knowing he was not able to get ahold of anyone for emergency assistance.
“I had two small fire extinguishers, so I was able to initially put the fire out but it came back,”
Albert’s wife Beth finally thought to call the 18th Police District, where someone answered the phone.
“And within two minutes, there was a fleet of fire trucks,”
Philadelphia police have admitted that 9-1-1 wait times are still too long due to an increase in call volume and staffing shortages, Action News reported.
Funding to hire 75 additional dispatchers was recently approved by Philadelphia Mayor, Jim Kenney, and the first group just graduated last week.
— reMARKable (@MBDesignNYC) July 23, 2021
Fortunately, once firefighters were alerted by police, they were able to put the fire out quickly.
Although assistance eventually arrived, residence still have very little faith in the current 9-1-1 system.
Beth Palubinsky said:
“The fault it seems to be is in a system that allows there not to be enough people to answer enough calls. How can that be?”
She went on to say:
“This was a wake-up call to us because if it hadn’t been for the neighbors… thank God for my neighbors.”
Police are hopeful the hiring of 75 additional dispatchers will vastly improve wait times.
Philadelphia Fire Department’s fiscal year 2022 budget testimony provided the following information for fire and EMS response times:
-The average fire engine response time in 2020 was 6 minutes 35 seconds. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for that response time to be 6 min 39 sec or less.
-In 2020, 22.39% of fire calls were responded to within 5 min 20 sec. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for at least 90% of calls to be responded to within 5 min 20 sec.
-The average EMS response time in 2020 was 11 min 4 sec. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for that response time to be 9 min or less.
-In 2020, 34.1% of fire calls were responded to within 9 min. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for at least 90% of calls to be responded to within 9 min.
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